The New Zealander got to witness a cracker at Stade de France as the four-time European champions rallied from 27-8 down at half-time to draw with Top 14 rivals Stade Francais 27-27, but what any Toulouse scout making a trip in the opposite direction would have made of Munster’s effort on a miserable night at Thomond Park on Saturday is anybody’s guess.
Munster head coach Rob Penney admitted that aside from a hard-earned win that returned his team to second place in the RaboDirect Pro12, two points behind Leinster, the victory over Treviso would have little bearing on next Saturday’s trip to the Aviva Stadium to take on the league leaders.
“None, really,” Penney said with a shrug. “Next week’s a stand-alone fixture, I’m sure you all understand the rationale behind that.”
A win is a win, and on a filthy evening in Limerick, when driving rain before kick-off and throughout the second half made ball-handling extremely difficult, that was as much as anyone could expect from a Munster side that saw 11 changes from its previous outing a distant three weeks earlier.
In that regard, and against an Italian outfit that had won the opposing fixture 29-19 at Stadio Monigo in September, the exercise served its purpose — a loss rebounded from, inevitable rust shaken off and some points for improvement established ahead of two season-defining weeks.
“Pretty happy,” Penney said, “difficult conditions, three weeks without a game, it was always going to be difficult. If you look at all the sides over the weekend, they all struggled a bit. We did some things tonight that will give us a bit of confidence heading into next week; aspects of our defence were outstanding, some of our breakdown work was okay and some our set-piece work was okay, so in another seven days we will be better again.”
For all Penney’s positivity in the aftermath of a two-try to nil win, there will be much from the video review to focus minds ahead of a top-of-the-table league clash with old rivals Leinster in front of more than 45,000 supporters this weekend.
Former Leinster fly-half Mat Berquist had opened the scoring for Treviso with a second-minute penalty and there was an element of good fortune to Munster’s opening try just before half-time, as JJ Hanrahan broke out of his own half and handed the returning Keith Earls what looked a forward pass.
Earls, in his first game since January, did what was asked of him and rounded the last man from 30m to score, with referee Leighton Hodges, following repeated looks at the video, determining the pass was not forward.
Hanrahan added the conversion to atone for two missed penalties and the home side took a 7-3 lead into the interval.
Munster edged the set-piece over the first 40 minutes and turned that into dominance after the break with a series of scrums on the Treviso line that earned them a free-kick and four penalties in succession but no penalty try from Hodges, who then added insult to injury by letting Treviso, having lost hooker Giovanni Maistri to the sin bin, off the hook with a penalty against Munster.
The numerical advantage told though, as tiring forwards and stretched defence could not keep Munster from adding a second try on 55 minutes, James Downey translating constant pressure with a score in the corner. Hanrahan nailed his most difficult kick of the night with a conversion from the left touchline into driving rain.
That was that, the final 25 minutes played out in appalling weather with the accompanying poor handling and no further scoring, let alone a bonus point for Munster. The conditions were an important mitigating factor, as well as a frustration for full-back and man of the match Felix Jones but they do not hide the realisation that on the evidence of Saturday night against a dogged Treviso, Munster will need to raise their game considerably to face the pedigree of their provincial cousins.
“With a game like that, with the weather, it can limit what you’re trying to do,” Jones said. “ I’ve no doubt it will be improved next week and, you know, maybe we can play a bit more rugby next week.”
MUNSTER: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala (S Zebo, 60), J Downey, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley, 65), D Williams (G Hurley, 75); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne, 56), D Varley – captain (Q MacDonald, 75), J Ryan (S Archer, 8); D Foley, B Holland; D Ryan, S Dougall (CJ Stander, 66), P Butler.
TREVISO: A Esposito; C Loamanu, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, L Nitoglia (L Ghiraldini, 50); M Berquist, E Gori (T Botes, 53); A De Marchi (M Muccignat, 61), G Maistri (L McLean, 60), L Cittadini (I Fernandez-Rouyet, 74); A Pavanello – captain (M Fuser, 53), V Bernabo (C Van Zyl, 53); M Vosawai, M Filippucci, R Barbieri.
Yellow card: Maistri 50-60.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales).